The black coffee, known as kopi, is thick and dark, almost as dark as the night.
The woman who makes the coffee pours in sweetened condensed milk. It turns the coffee a unique brown color. The color reminds me of small rivers in Southeast Asia.
It’s been two years since I last had this drink. This time, I’m not so brave. I ask the woman to add extra milk, so that the color will be closer to the kind of coffee that I imbibe in the United States, where I now spend more of my time.
I guess this episode sums up the analogy of my feelings and expectations when I’m back in Singapore and Malaysia for a visit. Some things are still familiar, some are not. Some things may appear the same, but the old spirit or texture is missing, or vice versa.
All this revolves around the adage that “you can’t go home”. Sometimes, I can be stubborn. I keep believing that you can, often preferring to overlook the permutations and adjustments that I know have to be made.
I think anyone who has two homes, or two countries, in his or her identity can relate to this. We want things to remain the same. At the same time, we have changed and evolved. And it’s pretty unrealistic to expect other people and things not to be touched by changes as well.
And which brings us to the role of nostalgia. Nostalgia is not mere fluff as some people may think; it actually acts as an anchor in our lives. I notice that this time around more people that I encounter in Singapore like to talk about it. Even the younger folks want to talk and learn more about the past. Nostalgia blogs in Singapore have a sizable following.
Perhaps when changes come fast, we need something familiar; that unseen anchor.
Sometimes, we lament the loss of the past. Sometimes, we seek the solace of familiarity in an old building, an old song.
And sometimes, when we are lucky, we see reflections of the past and the present in a cup of strong, dark local coffee.